Who or Whom?
Before I start talking about who and whom, I want to talk about pronouns. Way back in Business Writing Tip #1 I wrote:
Pronouns seem to confuse people but they’re really not difficult. The form of the pronoun that you need to use depends on whether it is a subject or object in the sentence.
- If it’s a subject, it performs the action.
Use I, he, she, they , we, who
- If it’s an object, it receives the action.
Use me, him, her, them, us, whom
Subjects and Objects
Do you remember what subjects and objects are?
The subject is the person or thing that is doing something.
- I am writing this blog.
‘I’ is the subject. ‘I’ am the person who is performing the action of writing.
- He ran as fast as he could, but still missed the train.
‘He’ is the subject. ‘He’ is the person who is performing the action of running.
Objects are the person or thing having something done to him/her/it.
- I patted the dog.
‘The dog’ is the object. It is the thing that I, the subject, am patting.
- He is writing the report.
‘The report’ is the object. It is the report that he, the subject, is performing the action of writing.
Who and Whom
Now when it comes to who and whom, who is the subject pronoun and whom is the object pronoun.
If you want to know the name of the person writing the report, you would ask, “Who is writing the report?” because you want to know the subject, the person who is performing the action.
If you want to know the name of the person or people that were invited to the meeting, you would ask, “Whom did you invite to the meeting?” because you want to know the object. The subject is you – you invited the people to the meeting.
Now I’ll give you a quick way to work out which word to use.
Look at that example again:
- You invited the people to the meeting. Maybe you invited Bob to the meeting.
If I replace Bob with a pronoun I would say, “You invited him to the meeting.”
When the pronoun is ‘him’, the question is ‘whom’?
- ‘Whom did you invite to the meeting?’ ‘I invited him.’
We also use ‘whom’ after prepositions. A couple of examples:
- To whom was he speaking?
- About whom were they talking?
- For whom did you buy the ring?
When it comes to Bob going to the station to catch the train, if I want to replace Bob with a pronoun I would say, ‘He went to station to catch the train.’ In this case, the question would be ‘Who went to the station to catch the train.’ Bob is performing the action.
So, if you can’t remember that you use „whom“ when you are referring to the object of the sentence, just remember that if you can replace the word with „him“, then you use „whom.“
It’s really not so difficult.
Then again, English is changing and some people never use the word ‘whom’. Its use is more common in US English than in UK English. As always, if you’re writing a formal document, it’s best to try and use it correctly, but don’t get hung up over it!